Reaching Outside of Yourself Part 1

If you are disabled due to mental illness, do you ever feel like you just can’t win, like you are unable to work but staying home makes your symptoms worse? If you are like me, this is one of your daily struggles. You’ve been told you cannot work, at least for now. You have all this time to create, but you feel out of it. What can you do to get back into the swing of things?

I felt this way a lot and felt like I was no longer part of the world. People always ask when they meet someone new, “So what do you do?” I never knew how to answer that question. I couldn’t say I was a stay-at-home mother because I had no children. I couldn’t say I worked even part time because I did not. I didn’t want to pour out my sad tale on every soul who asked that question because I didn’t wear my illness on my sleeve. I didn’t want to just say I was unemployed because I didn’t want people thinking I was a lazy person who just sat at home living off of my husband. I asked so many therapists how to handle that question and never got a satisfactory answer.

Then it occurred to me that maybe I didn’t need to find out how to answer it. Maybe I needed to make an answer to it. My doctor was adamant about my not going back to work, but perhaps there was another solution.

After failed attempts at working again against doctor’s orders, I finally remembered that I had been a part of a service sorority in college. Maybe something I could do would be to help someone else. But the question remained: what was I capable of?

I know not all of you attend church and I am not going to say you should, but that is where I started. I looked for opportunities to do small things at the church. When we collected items for a charity or made kits for relief efforts, I took the time to make kits and purchase things. These were inexpensive and easy to do. I also made meals for people who had just had a loss or a surgery or were going through chemo. I sent cards to people going through a rough time who needed prayers. Then I sang with the band and started serving on committees. I eventually became a co-coordinator for two seasons of our Operation Christmas Child efforts and became a council member.

Being involved really made a difference. It was easier to motivate myself when I knew others were depending on me. It also got me to think about someone else other than me. I was able to get outside of myself and the little world I was living in. Plus, most of these things didn’t create an unneeded stress that would only serve to make my symptoms worse.

I highly recommend getting involved in your community. Put together a meal for a neighbor in need. Buy a few extra items for your local food pantry when you are shopping. I promise you it feels good to help someone else in any small way you can. It was one of the first external steps I took to feeling better.

You can rebuild your life again. I am still working on mine, but as you saw last week, I have made a lot of progress on that front. There is life with mental illness. You just have to find what works for you. I can tell you that if you work at it, you will be rewarded with success in time. It is not immediate gratification, but it does exist.

So, stay on your meds, talk to your professionals about volunteer work, and see what you can do for someone else. It may not seem like a creative assignment, but it seriously helps with creativity when you learn about someone else’s story. Stories are useful for art. Plus, when that dreaded question is asked, you have an interesting reply to it. Until next week, when I will continue this post, be psyched!

So What Makes Me So Smart?

I ask this very tongue in cheek.  You may be wondering by now what I have accomplished that makes me an authoritative voice for getting out of a psychotropic med-induced haze. While my biggest accomplishments have happened within the last year or so, there were many smaller accomplishments along the way that led up to this point. Let me begin by telling you a bit about the last year.

 December 2012—I started my first blog, A Lady’s Tales. This was meant to be a fun way for me to convey little things in my life, particularly funny ones, to family and friends. I tell stories about cats, children, family members, and even stories I make up in a creative, fun format.

 March 2013—I had the inspiration to start this blog to help people with mental illness maintain creativity.

 April-June 2013—My husband lost his job, we moved, and my husband found a new job over 2 months later. This was a tumultuous time for me. Yes, I definitely had symptoms. All blogging was put on hold as my husband and I dealt with these changes. We had the opportunity to move closer to my siblings and their families and took it. I was up and down, mostly manic. My anger and irritability were through the roof for months. It took awhile to recuperate. It was a major setback. Moving meant finding new professionals, too. Everything had changed.

 September 2013—I began volunteer work, something I had been longing to do. I didn’t want just any volunteer job, however. I required something where I felt vital to the organization. I didn’t want to just stuff envelopes. I found a position in the baby room of our Special Learning Center. Many of these babies have special needs, something I have experience helping with. I feel needed, wanted, vital. I know if I don’t show up it is a difficult day for the people who work in that room. An extra pair of hands is needed.

 October 2013—I applied for a part time job at our local library in the adult circulation department. When granted an interview, it was the first I had in a decade. I needed to brush up on my skills ahead of time.

 November 2013—Began the National Novel Writing Month Challenge (NaNoWriMo) of writing 50,000 words in 30 days. I spent a month and a half during September and October preparing for this. I also began my job at the library on the 21st of this month. I finished the challenge and still work at the library. I kept my volunteer job as well.

 December 2013—I celebrated 4 years of being hospital-free!

 January 2014—I restarted my blog and have developed an interest in completing flash fiction challenges. Also have started work on two other potential novel ideas.

 As you can see, lots of change, which the borderline side of me resists greatly, even if the changes are good. I have my down moments as well as my moments of feeling overwhelmed, all of which are discussed with my new therapist. I ended up going back to my old doctor. I have to drive 1 ½ hours for my appointments, but she is worth it. I was fortunate to find a therapist with a style similar to my former therapist’s.

 Some of the smaller changes that helped me get here:

 1.) Realization that my illness was not the reason I wasn’t getting anywhere. I was the reason because I was not working hard enough. I was content to wallow in self-pity.

2.) Allowing myself to accept help from others.

3.) Talking to a professional about problems with libido and finding new ways of intimacy with my husband. This boosted my confidence and sense of self as a woman.

4.) Realizing I was not the center of the universe, nor was I the darkest corner of it. I needed to develop a sense of community. Attending craft groups helped with this.

5.) Stabilizing enough to reduce my medication with the help of my psychiatrist.

6.) Learning to manage my symptoms more effectively through therapy.

7.) Developing a desire to help others again. I used to always be a helping type of person and had become rather self-absorbed.

8.) Beginning to see positive things about myself. I had no self-esteem after years of feeling beaten down. I had to raise myself up a bit and it really helped.

 Things I am still working on:

 1.) Learning to not be hard on myself when things don’t go as planned. No one ever has everything go as planned.

2.) Not taking the bad days of other people personally and letting others vent.

3.) Writing about what I am interested in rather than what my husband would be interested in.

4.) Learning what my interests are. I don’t even know what to read anymore since everything I have read has been for class or research. I have absorbed a lot of my husband’s interests in an attempt to spend more time with him. I need to figure out what I want for myself.

5.) Still working more on seeing myself in a positive light. It takes years to undo a lifetime of negative self-esteem.

 These are things outlined by me, not my professionals, though I share these things with them. This is where I have been and where I feel I need to go therapeutically. Life is not perfect. It never will be. It will always be a work in progress. The other thing I need to work on is to enjoy what is good and positive and stop living in fear of the other shoe dropping. As my therapist put it, when we are depressed we don’t go around saying, “Oh, no! What if I get happy again?”

 Being creative again was a result of all of this other stuff happening: the good, the bad, the uncertain all played a role. You can get to a point where you surpass me, where you are published or have your work in a gallery or are creating every day. I still don’t create every day, but I am working on it. I am taking the steps to get there and I have come a long way. I used to not create all. Now I create several days a week. I will keep working to outline the steps I used to get there so you don’t have to waste as much time as I did.

 Keep coloring the mandalas or design your own. Take some of the steps I outlined above for your own personal wellness if they apply to you. Keep the lines of communication open with your professionals. As always, contact me if you have questions, comments, or stories to share. Until next week, CREATE!   

Understanding and Participating in Treatment Part 2

This post is a continuation of the post from last Thursday.

Encourage Communication

If I am having a serious episode, I will often request that my psychiatrist and therapist consult with one another on the best course of action. It is helpful if all of you can be in agreement as to what would work best in a crisis. If your clinicians are in different practices, you will need to sign a release for this to happen. I sign one each year for them to keep on file just in case.

In between episodes, I give an honest account of my appointments to each clinician. In other words, I tell my therapist about psychiatry appointments and vice versa. Being a good communicator is another way of building that trust that you want.

Another Word on Honesty

I can’t stress honesty enough. If you want the best care available you have to be willing to be an open book. Treatment works so much better when you aren’t knowingly withholding anything. If they ask a question you don’t know the answer to, be honest and tell them you really don’t know. Don’t try to make things up to please them.

Know Thyself

The last point I want to make is that no one knows what you are thinking and feeling better than you do. Sometimes it is hard to put those things into words, but do the best you can. The better you know yourself, the more effectively you can communicate with caregivers.

Not every emotion you feel is a symptom—remember that. Even “normal” people get angry, sad, joyous, and anxious at times. I spent a lot of years blaming every little thing on my illness when some of the things were actually normal.

I have started to pay more attention to the extremes or how difficult it is to get the extreme under control. I also pay attention to how long emotions last because the ones that last longest are often more indicative of an episode for me.

I am still learning what is “normal” for me and that is something that looks different for everyone. Over time, you will start to learn your “normal” too.

The Result of Building Trust

Since I have spent time developing a relationship with my clinicians based on trust and honesty, I now make a lot of my own decisions. When I need to change medications (which is usually decided by me), my doctor tries to give me 2-3 options. We weigh the positive and negative effects of each, as well as how I have responded to meds in that class before. In the end, the decision is mine.

Hospitalizations are another thing I decide on my own, but I am honest about when I don’t feel safe being at home by myself or even with my husband, something that is very important to establish. My doctor knows that if I call her and tell her I need to go to the hospital, I am not crying wolf, trying to get attention, or any of the other negative responses. She trusts that I have assessed my symptoms adequately enough to make this decision.

Lastly, I also decide which therapies are effective. I have learned that I don’t do well in a group setting, so I choose an individual therapist and she gives me extra appointments when I am struggling. Be willing to try anything, though. Otherwise, you don’t know what works and what doesn’t. I also know I respond best to Rational Emotive Therapy as opposed to Cognitive Behavioral or Dialectical but that is because I have tried all three.

Trust is not a one way street—you have to be able to trust and rely on your providers, but they also need to be able to trust and rely on you. Many people forget about the second part of that.

If you would rather share privately, please contact me at psychedtowrite@gmail.com tell me your story. Be psyched to write!

–Marsha 

Understanding and Participating in Treatment

     If you have tried or are currently trying treatment for mental illness, have you ever felt like a guinea pig? Do you feel like you no longer control your own life and decisions are made for you? Do you feel drugged? Do all of your choices seem unacceptable?
     I felt all of those things when I first began treatment. First, I was given labels and I really didn’t understand what they meant. Second, I was taking medications and didn’t know their side effects or even what the good effects could be.
     I felt like the doctor had all the control and I was just an experiment. I went three years feeling like this, so one of the earliest things I did to help my situation was decide to be in charge of my treatment.
Being in charge is not a power trip or a way to manipulate your clinicians. It is a way to form a relationship with them. Building trust is an essential way to make sure you get to remain in charge of your treatment.

Education

     The first thing I did was read about my diagnoses. The internet wasn’t as savvy and informational then as it is now, so I went to the library and got books. I read about the illnesses and their treatment options. I heard so many words and terms thrown around when I was in the hospital that I wanted to find out what they meant. I also not only read about medications, but I explored the different therapeutic responses to my illnesses. Here are some of the steps I followed:

Responsibility

     I made a vow. I promised to be completely and totally honest with all of my clinicians about everything—side effects, positive effects, symptoms, triggers, thoughts, and psychiatric history. I knew I needed to prove I was ready to be in charge of my care and what builds trust better than honesty?
     In exchange for my honesty, I wanted theirs which meant I needed to ask questions about new treatments if and when they were prescribed. Most doctors will work with you on affordability and side effect issues if you let them know about the problem(s).
Understanding
     After doing all of my reading, I understood that medication and treatment is trial and error for all involved, not just the patients. Doctors are still learning about all of the effects of medication and therapy and much is still unknown about the human brain.
Once I understood that, it was easier for me to be open to experimentation with treatment. Through my reading, I had learned the following: a.) I wouldn’t be better overnight; b.) the first several meds probably wouldn’t work out; c.) just because a friend had a bad reaction to a med didn’t mean I would. Body chemistry is different for each individual.

Keeping Records

     Because I have taken so many different types of meds over the years, I began to keep track of which ones I have tried and what their positive and negative effects have been. Some meds I can’t ever take again and others might work again in the future. I don’t want to confuse which is which.
     I also made a psych history, which is a record of hospitalizations, major psych episodes, and events that may have caused problems such as the death of loved ones or moving to a new city. This information is helpful whenever I go to see a new clinician or have to be hospitalized. I can’t remember all 26 hospitalizations or where they were because I have moved a lot during my adult life, so keeping a record is good. I sit down every few months and add any changes to it.
     I also keep it records where my husband can find them in case I am unable to get the information on my own for any reason. I make a printed copy for each new clinician as well. The Dropbox app is really great for friend/family access because you can see files from any of your devices and so can your family.
     Keep an ongoing list in between appointments of items to discuss with your clinicians. I have one for each clinician and if I don’t write things down, I forget about them until it is too late to mention them. Observe any symptoms, triggers, side effects or just anything you might know or remember that could help with your treatment. The more information you provide, the better your treatment outcome will be.
     Tune into the blog next week where this post will be continued. I will discuss communication issues, knowing yourself, honesty (again because it is so important), and what the result of building trust with clinicians looks like. Then we will wrap up this topic. Feel free to ask any questions you might have. You can leave a comment or email me at psychedtowrite@gmail.com. I would love to hear from you. If you answered yes to any of the questions at the beginning of this post, feel free to post your story or email it to me. Until next week, Be Psyched to Write!

Marsha Holtgrewe-Posz

 

Setting Your 2014 Goals

     Goals and resolutions can be tricky things this time of year. What is the difference between the two anyway? I tend to think of resolutions as “big” things to accomplish and usually, they are also nearly impossible. How often have you actually achieved a resolution you have set for yourself? I think of goals as smaller, more doable things you can accomplish. Goals don’t necessarily take the whole year. You don’t have to work on each goal every day like you might with resolutions. Goals are achievable. Resolutions are generally given up by the end of the first month. People often make resolutions to lose weight or get organized but don’t have adequate plans for carrying those things through to the end. Goals have a plan attached to them and are more manageable. A goal can be to clean out and organize your closets. It is something you can tackle a little at a time.

     I have set some goals for myself in 2014. Some of them are loftier, others are shorter. I think it is important to have a mix of the two. Achieving short-term goals keeps you motivated for the long-term goals. So here are some of my short-term goals:

 1.) Get my blog up and running. I have already achieved this goal by getting it set up again and starting to blog.

 2.) Acquire and maintain a small group of regular readers, say maybe 20-30. Again, this is a smaller goal and one that is doable. I am not looking for thousands of readers—just a handful.

 3.) Finish three of my knitting works in progress (WIPs). I have three projects that have been on needles for the last year that I would really like to finish up. I have a couple of other projects that have been on needles longer, but I am going to start with these three and then see where that takes me.

 4.) Make a scrapbook of my niece, Adrian’s, first year by next Christmas as a gift to her parents. The last time I had scrapbooks to make, I didn’t get them done on time. This time, I would like to accomplish getting the book done in time to give it as a Christmas gift.

 5.) Lose 13 pounds and then maintain my weight. I gained 13 pounds in 2013 and I would like to lose the little I gained. Note I am not asking myself to lose 50 or 100 lbs. I just want to get back to where I was at the beginning of 2013. This is more achievable. If I want to lose more weight later, I can revise my goals.

 Here are some of my longer-term goals:

 1.) I want to redraft my novel that I wrote for National Novel Writing Month in November 2013. Note that I am not asking myself to finish it, but I want to redraft it at least once. This will have several steps. A.) I will need to reread what I have already written in one sitting and take notes for redrafting. This is not the time to nitpick on grammar and typos. That will come in the editing process. B.) I need to break what I have written into chapters and put it into Scrivener. C.) I need to add more details and make sure the storyline flows. This entire goal will take some time, but it is achievable to re-draft once in a year. If I happen to do more, hooray for me, but I am not pressuring myself the finish the whole thing. I can re-evaluate this goal later if I need to.

 2.) I would like to learn the Scrivener software. I have bought a book in order to help me do this. I want to be able to use it’s features to the best of my ability but that doesn’t necessarily mean I am pressuring myself to be an expert in the program. The software is new for me. I just want to be adequate at using it.

 3.) I want to maintain my part-time job through 2014. I acquired this job just a couple of months ago. It is the first job I have had in 7 years. Rather than just say I want to go full time, I plan to remain at this job on a part-time basis for two reasons. 1.) I want to make sure I can do it. 2.) I want to still have time for writing. Going full time would make that more difficult

      I think three long-term goals is plenty and I may add short-term goals throughout the year. I am just starting with five.

      If you have been in talk therapy, your therapist may have already had you set goals for therapy. But what about you? What do YOU want by the end of 2014? You may need to take some time to think about this. Yes, you probably want to feel better, but rather than set that as a goal, how about setting goals that help you achieve that. For example, you might try making sure you take your meds, every dose every day for 3 months. Or maybe you can set a goal of doing something creative, even if it is just coloring, 2 days per week. Make sure it is doable so that you don’t set yourself up for failure.

      Just because we are nearly 2 weeks into January does not mean it is too late to set goals. You can set goals anytime you want to. I do it in the middle of the year all the time when things arise that I want to set out to finish. I have given you some examples of my goals, but what about yours?

      Feel free to share your goals with me or someone else. Use others to hold you accountable if you have trouble doing that yourself. Make sure at least one of your goals is creativity-driven. After all, that is why you are here, isn’t it? Be cautious about pressuring yourself to create every day. Set something more doable so that if you have days where it just isn’t coming to you, you haven’t failed. You have tried and will try again later when you feel better.

      I admit to not writing every day. I read or write most days, but not all of them. Despite what all the writing blogs say, I take things in my own stride and create in spurts. This is not to say I wait for the muse or other inspiration. I actually push myself some days to get through the fog, but if the fog is too great, I will read instead. I don’t work 7 days a week like they say to. I work more like 5 days and they vary depending on my work and activity schedule. It is important to hang out with friends and family, too. If that happens to be during a normal write/read time, I work around it sometimes. At others, I defend my time for writing.

      Set your goals based on your ability level at this time. If you are able to do more later, reset your goal. If you are doing less, push yourself harder for a bit, but if you still can’t, maybe you need to re-evaluate that goal. It doesn’t mean you are a failure. It just means you need to work more gradually up to that ability level. You will get there eventually.

      Please feel free to share your goals with me by sending me an email. I would love to hear from you. Please also ask questions if you need. I am very open about my own illness and recovery. Until later, create, create, create!

I’m Back…With an Exercise!

For your coloring pleasure, google "mandala coloring sheets"

For your coloring pleasure, google “mandala coloring sheets”

Happy 2014, everyone!
One of my goals for 2014 is to get this blog up and running. The original idea behind the blog remains the same. I want to reach out to anyone who is struggling to get in touch with their creativity. I especially hope to reach people who have that very struggle because they are on psychotropic medications.
The year 2013 was a phenomenal and transforming year for me creatively, personally, and professionally. I will share my successes in time, but mostly I want to use today’s blog to provide some encouragement to anyone who struggles with creativity. I once walked in the foggy haze so many people suffer from. I have read about the difficulties of others on websites. They are people longing to find their creative spark. It is because of reading stories like yours that I decided to strike out on my own and offer hope and maybe even relief for anyone suffering from a creative lapse. You can be creative again. You can feel better and be creative at the same time. You can figuratively have your cake and eat it, too. Maybe I can help.
While my creativity tends to take the form of writing at the moment, it has also taken other forms in the past such as knitting and scrapbooking. Even in it’s most crude form of coloring I was still using creative juices. So while many posts will discuss writing, the blog is intended for anyone searching for any type of creativity and I will try to address comments and questions to whatever type of creativity my readers find useful.
Please note that while I hope you find my suggestions helpful, they do not in any way take the place of professional help. Talk to your therapist and/or psychiatrist before trying anything I suggest to see if it is right for you. Not every method works for everybody. If it did, we wouldn’t need this blog.
Also, please don’t be hard on yourself if my suggestions don’t work for you. It’s worth giving anything a shot as long as it is safe for you, but just because it didn’t work doesn’t mean it should reflect poorly on you. You tried. As writers say, the worst stories are the ones that are never written. This goes with any art: the worst picture is the one never painted. The worst song is the one never composed. If you are trying, that is the most anyone can ask of you. No one creates a masterpiece their first time out. Keep trying.
My first suggestion to get the creative juices flowing is a fun one and should make you think of happy times when you were younger and getting a new box of crayons or markers for school. Remember smelling them, feeling them on the paper, seeing the vibrant colors? My suggestion is to color mandalas. Look up the word if you don’t know what they are but think “rose window.”
Coloring may not seem creative, but the very act of choosing colors and putting them close together is creative. Coloring is also very relaxing. I use mandalas when I have a lot of anxiety. I suggest coloring them with markers as opposed to crayons or colored pencils. The colors with markers are bolder, more vibrant, more alive. You can download and print hundreds if not thousands of designs to color for free on the internet.
After you have colored several, maybe try designing your own. I haven’t gotten this brave yet. I am still coloring and have been using them for 4 years. I’m in no hurry to draw them. I just enjoy making cool color combinations. Observe how your mind starts to plot and plan for which color will come next.
Turn off your inner critic. Just let the colors be together. Every time the critic says you should have used a different color, tell it to shut up. You can pick your colors any way you want. Take time in between colors to really consider your choices. Let your hands feel the marker moving across the page. If you have scented markers, let your nose observe the smells emanating from the paper. Let your eyes take in the colors. Rather than criticize which ones you don’t like, look at each color individually, just as you wish to be considered individually. Look at the quality of that color. Is it dark or light, bold or soft?
Hold your paper away from your face. Allow your eyes to zero in on the image as if looking at one of those hidden image books. What do you see or notice? What do you like about what you have colored? Look only for positive traits. Tell the inner critic to go home and take a much deserved rest. You can take it from here.
Do you feel more relaxed after coloring? I usually do. If I don’t, I try coloring again or use another soothing technique.
I hope coloring mandalas helps you relax and helps you see that you can be creative. You can match colors. Even if you didn’t like all of the colors, you probably still had fun playing and still found some combinations you liked. Creativity doesn’t have to be work. It can be fun. It especially doesn’t have to be instant art. Enjoy coloring. See you Tuesday!

Help! My Meds Stole My Mojo! Part 2

To continue from the background I gave of myself last week, I will start by saying I have taken a look at my art from the time I was a teen to the present. Much of my art spawned from mental pain and anguish. I used dark colors and themes and wrote about dark things. Some of it I destroyed or lost, but some of it survived.

In this society, we have a view of the artist as a tortured individual. It wasn’t until I met my hubby that I saw an artist who didn’t have a tortured past or present. He is actually quite normal if there is such a thing.

If we look at all of the art, music, writing, and creative efforts over the centuries, much was created by pain. But what if ALL of it was created out of pain? How would we view art? Would we still see it as a positive thing or a negative thing? What impact would all the pain have? Pain does make for great art, but truly prolific artists create from something other than pain.

I, too, saw art as being the product of pain and thought it must be awesome to live the tortured artist’s existence. I had a friend in high school who wanted nothing more than to go completely mad. He thought it would be “cool” somehow. Looking back, I don’t see anything “cool” about it.

Let’s look at things this way. If we don’t take our psychiatric meds and treatments and we create out of pain, we are actually living a very limited existence, not an enlightened one. If all we know is pain, we don’t know very much, do we? A child’s laughter sounds maniacal. A cool breeze makes us shudder. A cloudy day makes us morose.

But what if we were able to describe these things differently? A child’s laughter reminds us of bubbles. A cool breeze rescues us from the feeling of breathing in soup. A cloudy day makes us feel glad to be cozy indoors with a lover. These images are powerful as well, are they not?

When I made the leap and chose sanity over creativity, I thought the rest of my life was going to be humdrum. I didn’t think I would be able to make anything again without following directions first. I was trying to find other ways to fill my time, but watching television and movies can only get a person so far. I spent years sleeping or staring out the window, wondering where my life was going and why I was even still here. As for the sanity part, it wasn’t completely here yet.

I knew I had to be patient, but 10 years of doing very little seems like a long time. Gradually, however, my husband Allen and I began to notice steady improvement to my mental health. But I still had a restless mind, void of anything that was intellectually challenging. I had convinced myself that anything not created out of pain was somehow inferior or worse still, worthless. These feelings impeded my recovery process for years.

My therapist noted this lack of intellectual stimulation and we discussed ways of getting that need satiated, but it took some trial and error before I could convince myself anything would ever fill the need. I talked about going back to school, getting a job, doing volunteer work, trying anything to live a normal person’s life even though I have been on disability for over a decade. I managed to talk myself out of just about everything.

There really hasn’t been a huge turning point in my life that has gotten me to where I am currently. The changes have been small and seemingly insignificant when they happen, but I realized their impact much later.

One change was to start to do things socially that were creative. I had dabbled in crafts off and on most of my life, but didn’t see that as real art. I would look at books and magazines and copy their designs. Then I found people with whom to scrapbook. Later, I found people with whom I could knit. I used them as inspiration and started using bolder color combinations and edgier designs. I was using books and magazines less and less and beginning to see the artistic value of crafting.

Writing professionally was something I had dreamed about when I was younger, but I no longer considered it a viable option. It was something I just dabbled in once in a while. I was looking for something that could make a steady income since affording meds can be difficult, even with Medicare. I had a number of friends and family telling me to write a book, but I had no idea what I would even write about. It is easy to tell yourself that you can’t when you feel like a failure already.

For some reason, I decided to Google writing last fall and see what popped up. I found a number of blogs that have been useful, inspiring, and educational. Now I have two blogs of my own and am working on writing my memoir. Little by little, I have had great responses to what I have written thus far and I have plans to continue. I even hope to develop a freelance career based on some of the things I will touch upon in this blog. Furthermore, I am starting to gain some confidence, which is leading me toward all of these bold steps.

You see, my creativity wasn’t gone. It had never left. There are so many other things we can use as inspiration in life than just pain—spirituality, nature, joy, humor, family and friends, pets, just to name a few.

Yes, misery seems deep and I don’t regret experiencing it because it is part of who I am, but true creativity means looking outside what we have been limited by and finding something to feel passion for. Creativity is not misery, but an inner fire, burning and igniting the flames of ingenuity. I didn’t end up sacrificing anything—I have creativity and sanity together.

Next week, I hope to touch on some of the reasons I can give for maintaining psychiatric treatment and how you can go about doing so successfully. Does all of this mean I will never have another episode again? Of course not. It just means that I know how to better identify the symptoms and manage them.

Do you create any kind of art? What are some of your themes and devices? Are you looking to improve your experiences as an artist? Feel free to comment below or send an email if you want to tell me privately. Until next week, be psyched to write!

Marsha Holtgrewe-Posz
psychedtowrite@gmail.com

Help! My Meds Stole My Mojo! Part 1

MedicationDo psych meds cause your creative juices to dry up? Psychotropic medications often get a bad rap among the individuals who take them. Not only are there the other dreaded side effects, but meds are also accused of obliterating creativity. I have often heard other patients in hospital settings remark that as soon as they return home, they will go off of their meds and get their creativity back. I used to be the same way. However, each time I would belligerently refuse my medications, I would end up back in the hospital with thoughts of ending my life. One day, I decided I would make the sacrifice—I would exchange creativity for sanity and a life with my husband and see what happened.

The First Two Blog Entries

Because I feel that this blog is laying the groundwork for a unique discussion on mental illness, taking medications, and creativity, this entry idea will be divided into 2 parts so it isn’t so much to take in at once. In Part 1, I will give you a little background about me and where I have been. In Part 2, I will tell you where I am trying to go and what I have done on my own to get my creative mojo back over the years, as well as steps you can take to do the same. This is will be the “hope” portion of the discussion.

Inner Pain

There are many things that are difficult about having one or more chronic mental illnesses, but it seems that feeling as though one has lost their creativity is one of the hardest things to overcome. Why is it such a deal breaker? Because creativity is what people suffering from mental illness have used as an outlet all their lives, a way of releasing their inner pain.

I wrote a lot of poetry in high school and college before joining a band in my early 20s and writing song lyrics. My pain and suffering found its way into my art and was a dominating theme. It is not uncommon for people with mental illness to be creative types, something which even science recognizes (I plan to explore this further in the blog’s future). Studies have been done on living people and speculation has been made about many famous deceased people. People assume that once they don’t feel as much pain, their muse has left them.

My Own Pain

• I have been mentally ill most, if not all, of my life.

• I remember hearing voices at age 6 or so. I was always sneaking up the stairs to hear what my dolls were saying about me and it was always vicious. I never heard commanding voices, but always heard voices, sometimes of people I loved, saying bad things about me.

• I remember being depressed as early as age 8. I often isolated myself from other kids on the playground and sat alone under a tree, moping about how no one liked me.

• By the time I reached my teens I can remember episodes of mania where I was bouncing off the walls, had rapid speech, and obsessed over details followed by episodes of deep despair and depression.

• In high school, my teachers became concerned about my depression and had the principal discuss this with me and my parents. I read a description of what was then called Manic-Depressive Disorder in a psychology class and felt it applied directly to me.

• In college I began to self-injure and was evicted from my dormitory for being a liability to the residential staff.

• At age 24 I was hospitalized for the first time and have had an additional 25 hospitalizations over the past 13 years, most during the first half of that time period.

• I have the labels Mixed Bipolar Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, and Generalized Anxiety Disorder in my psychiatric medical records.

• I have been glued, stitched, and even stapled due to self-injury.

• I have made a suicide attempt.

• I have been arrested for mixing large quantities of alcohol with medication and getting out of hand.

• I have felt a keen sense of helplessness, an even greater sense of loss of self-worth, and a loss of hope for the future.

• I went through a long period of time where I had no creative outlet and rampant negative feelings. Everything in the world seemed to be against me, and I dwelled on it.

• I went off of meds numerous times for every reason I could think of, including trying to get pregnant, getting my creativity back, because they were not working, and because I thought I didn’t need them anymore.

• I lost my job because I self-injured at work and I ended up going on disability. During the past 13 years, I have only worked during 3 of them and that was only part time. Even that became too much and I had to leave my job.

• I hit rock bottom on more than one occasion.

Where You Come In

As you can see, I have probably been where you are or have been, at least partially. I wanted to write this so you could see that I have been in the bottom of the barrel, feeling as though I was drowning. I am not a clinician. I am just someone who has experienced a lot and I want to share it with others as a means of hopefully inspiring them to be greater than they think they can be. I know that even as I write this I am doing something I never thought myself capable of. Next week, I will tell you how I got here.

In the meantime, I would like your input. What would you like out of this blog? What questions can I answer that would help you on your own journey? Have you hit rock bottom? Are you ready to change anything about your life? Do you want to get your mojo back? Comment below and read on next week to find out about the changes I have started to make. Until next time, be psyched to write!

–Marsha Holtgrewe Posz

psychedtowrite@gmail.com

A Writer’s Pep Talk

It is Thursday evening, so I am a bit late with this week’s post, but it is still technically coming out on Thursday. This week, I will walk you through the type of conversation I have to have with myself whenever I have a negative thought about me. This post is based on the quote below and demonstrates exactly what I needed therapists to teach me. This is something I could have never learned on my own. I have started this writing journey, and I am getting closer to feeling that it would be impossible to not finish it, but I still have a ways to go. Enjoy, and put this method to good use if need be.
“Every time I start on a new book, I am a beginner again. I doubt myself, I grow discouraged, all the work accomplished in the past is as though it never was, my first drafts are so shapeless that it seems impossible to go on with the attempt at all, right up until the moment…when it has become impossible not to finish it.”
–Simone De Bevoir, Force of Circumstance
I can really relate to this quote because I feel like a beginner whenever I start a new project whether it is writing, knitting, scrapping or anything else. I look at the supplies and wonder how I am going to put them together into something coherent. I have the core belief that I am not good enough for anything, something so deeply ingrained that I’ve become a source of frustration for many therapists over the years. I don’t know where it came from or how to get around it either. Thinking positively rarely works because I don’t believe any of the positive thoughts I force myself to have. Rational Emotive Therapy comes closest to working as long as I remember to use it. This method forces me to question my thoughts, to ask things such as, “How do I know I’m not good enough to succeed? What evidence or proof do I really have?” It also forces to me to give honest answers to those questions. Let’s walk through it.
I’m on the precipice of beginning to write my memoir. I am reading books about writing and making myself finish them before I begin writing. I tell myself it is self-education. Knowledge is power and knowing things will keep me from writing a disaster. But how do I know it would be a disaster? Am I truly educating myself or stalling? What is the real motive behind all this self-education? Am I ever going to know enough to be a good writer? These are questions I must ask myself and force myself to answer truthfully.
Here are the facts. I do know I was successful in my grad school creative writing class. I do know my short story really connected with my readers. I do know my professor saw potential because I got an A in the course. I do know that only one of the 15 or so students didn’t like my story, but I also know he had no real knowledge of the subject matter. I know that no writing will please everyone all of the time.
So why do I linger on these thoughts of not being educated enough and feeling inadequate in general when I ought to just jump in, start writing and have fun with it? Not all writers feel the need for an MFA in creative writing or any other degree for that matter. Some writers have little college experience at all, so why do I think an MA in English literature doesn’t make me enough of an expert? Good question! I still don’t know the answer, but my hubby has begged me not to return to school, so I’ve begun reading on my own. I have already learned a lot from my reading (which justifies the expense of the books), including which of the 4 paradigms of writing is likely to suit me. So why am I not using it? Because I am afraid of doing it wrong. But there is no correct way to write. These are just suggestions of common methods. Yet I still feel I should immerse myself in knowledge to avoid mistakes. I have news for myself: There will be mistakes. Lots of them. Just when I think I have found them all, a reader will find more. Every writer makes mistakes. In fact, every person makes mistakes. It is ok to make mistakes. It is even ok to fail. What is not ok is giving up or not trying at all.
This mental banter is necessary for me to work through negative thinking and eventually I come up with a statement that I can see as true and work with it, such as the italicized final sentence of the last paragraph. Unfortunately for me, confidence is not in my nature. I have to earn it through battling myself, and it is always hard work. One of my therapists once told me I have the biggest wet noodle with which to flog myself that she ever saw. I have to prove I am worthy of anything and repeat that on a constant basis to believe it.
I wrote this back in January as I embarked on a journey to write my memoir. As I prepared for this week’s blog entry, I came across this and realized I needed to hear it all over again. Once again, I have doubted my abilities as a writer. However, skills I have learned in therapy help me argue with myself when I need a pep talk of sorts. It can help me evaluate the facts rather than rely on what my emotions about a situation may be. Does any of this sound familiar to you? Do you have doubts when you begin any new project about your abilities to complete it? Can you talk yourself out of self-doubt and despair? If so, what is your method? Please comment below and write on!